Sept. 17, 2009

By Bo Rottenborn

Dig This is a weekly notebook bringing you all the top stories from the past week in D-I Women's Volleyball, along with everything you need to know for the weekend ahead.

A Look Back at Last Week's Highlights

Fans in Tampa had their appetites whet last weekend, as the St. Pete Times Forum - which will play host to the final two rounds of this year's NCAA Championship on Dec. 17 and 19 - was the site of an elite early-season tournament, the Tampa Twice. If one thing was evident there, it's that Washington has the look of a team that figures to be among that final quartet of national championship contenders. After No. 2 Texas made a similar statement in Hawai'i the week before, the third-ranked Huskies established themselves as one of the truly elite teams in college volleyball this season by buzzing through a pair of top-10 squads. Senior outside hitter Jill Collymore posted 15 kills, while senior libero Tamari Miyashiro had 19 digs as Washington swept No. 9 Minnesota (25-21, 25-19, 25-23) in the tournament opener. Then, in one of the biggest matchups yet of the young season, the Huskies dominated fourth-ranked Florida 25-17, 25-10, 25-19 to claim the Tampa Twice title. UW junior All-America setter Jenna Hagglund orchestrated a balanced and deadly attack that averaged just under 15 kills per set and posted a .359 attack percentage - while Miyashiro (20 digs) and the rest of the Huskies smothered Florida's offense, which hit just .067 for the match. Washington - which received three first-place votes this week - has yet to drop a set in eight matches this season.

There were two other huge matchups elsewhere last weekend. Eighth-ranked UCLA pulled off a historic road victory against No. 5 Nebraska (see details below), while sixth-ranked Hawai'i swept No. 10 Stanford. The Rainbow Wahine got a measure of revenge against the team that eliminated them from last year's NCAA tournament with a 27-25, 25-21, 25-22 triumph in front of 7,801 fans in the Honolulu Advertiser Volleyball Challenge. Both teams hit well, but junior setter Dani Mafua led the Rainbow Wahine to a .392 attack percentage in the 1,000th all-time victory for Hawai'i.

Junior All-America outside hitter Laura DeBruler pounded 28 kills for 14th-ranked Illinois against No. 16 Saint Louis in a four-set victory that gave the hosts the title in the State Farm Illini Classic. That came a day after SLU was swept by Cincinnati in the Bearcats' first win over a nationally-ranked team since 2003. UC got 14 kills an four aces from junior outside hitter Stephanie Niemer.

No. 17 Kentucky knocked off the hosts in four sets on the opening day of the Varney's Kansas State Invitational, and the Wildcats then lost to Purdue in five on the final day of the event. In another five-set decision, Army knocked off the 19th-ranked Waves in the Pepperdine Asics Classic. It marked the first-ever win over a nationally-ranked opponent for the Black Knights.

Top-ranked Penn State continued to roll, with sweeps of Loyola College, the College of Charleston and the host Blue Devils in the Duke Invitational. The Nittany Lions have now won 73 straight matches, as well as 123 straight sets (both NCAA records).

This Week's Top Matchups

Second-ranked Texas faced nationally-ranked opponents in each of its first five matches of the season, defeating all of them. This week, the Longhorns begin Big 12 play with two more stiff tests. After sweeping No. 24 and previously unbeaten Baylor on Wednesday night, the Longhorns welcome No. 10 Iowa State on Friday. Senior setter Ashley Engle, a first-team All-American in 2008, and her offense have been brilliant so far, ranking third nationally in htting percentage (.326). But UT could be in for a challenge this week, taking on the two teams atop the Big 12 statistics in opponent hitting percentage. Baylor is first at .120, while Iowa State is at .121.

One of the best events in the final weekend of widespread regular-season tournament play figures to be in Ann Arbor, where the sixth-ranked Wolverines will play host to the Michigan/adidas Invitational. The field includes not only the 10-0 hosts - who are sporting their highest-ever national ranking - but also 9-0 Dayton (which is the second team outside of the Top 25 this week), an Oregon State (7-2) team receiving votes in this week's AVCA poll, plus Marquette - which stands 9-2. The Wolverines will try to extend their streak of 50 consecutive regular-season victories over non-conference opponents.

Another tournament with potential for great volleyball is the Purdue Active Ankle Classic, which features the host Boilermakers (the fourth team outside of the Top 25) and No. 14 Illinois both taking on defending BIG EAST champion Louisville and defending MAC champion Ohio. The Boilermakers eliminated the Cards in a tight five-set match in the opening round of last year's NCAA tournament.

A trio of West Coast Conference teams will have big opportunities against ranked opponents this week. No. 25 Pepperdine will play host to seventh-ranked UCLA on Wednesday before heading to Hawai'i for a pair against the fourth-ranked Rainbow Wahine. Saint Mary's - which is 7-1 and receiving votes - will play road matches against No. 13 California (Saturday) and 11th-ranked Stanford (Sunday). No. 23 San Diego will welcome 18th-ranked UC Irvine on Thursday.

The national leader in kills per set, Temple junior outside hitter Yun Yi Zhang (6.17 per set), will face a challenge this weekend when her Owls take on top-ranked Penn State twice. The Nittany Lions - who led Division I in blocks per set last year (3.22) - will play at Temple on Saturday before hosting both the Owls and Saint Francis on Sunday to wrap up non-conference action.

Finally, New Hampshire welcomes Harvard, Arizona State and Wyoming for the second annual Holly Young Invitational, an event created in memory of a former UNH player who passed away from Ewings Sarcoma in January 2008 at the age of 22. Despite never actually playing in a match for the Wildcats, Young left a mark on the program and inspired the Holly Young Fund, which was originally created to help pay for her treatments, but is now used for cancer research and a scholarship in her name at her alma mater, Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School.

All of This Week's Televised Matches and Some Big Ones Featuring Free Online Video

Wednesday, September 16
No. 24 Baylor at No. 2 Texas, 6 p.m. CT - ESPNU
Texas Tech at No. 8 Nebraska, 7 p.m. CT - NET (Watch Free)
Thursday, September 17
San Diego State at BYU, 7 p.m. MT - BYU Television
No. 18 UC Irvine at No. 23 San Diego, 7 p.m. PT - Watch Free
Friday, September 18
No. 10 Iowa State at No. 2 Texas, 6:30 p.m. CT - Watch Free
No. 25 Pepperdine at No. 4 Hawai'i, 7 p.m. HT - KFVE
Saturday, September 19
San Diego State at Utah, 1 p.m. MT - CBS College Sports [airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET] (Watch Free - Live)
No. 25 Pepperdine at No. 4 Hawai'i, 7 p.m. HT - KFVE
Sunday, September 20
Auburn at Alabama, 1 p.m. CT - CSS
No. 16 Kentucky at LSU, 2 p.m. CT - ESPNU

An Accomplishment or Milestone

Heading into last weekend, there were a total of 23 active NCAA Division I head coaches that had registered at least 500 victories in their careers. But in a span of less than 24 hours, three more coaches joined that club. First, 19th-ranked Pepperdine beat Seattle in three sets on Friday night in the Pepperdine Asics Classic to give head coach Nina Matthies her 500th victory. On Saturday afternoon, American downed NJIT 3-1 in the American Volleyball Classic to mark the 500th win for AU head coach Barry Goldberg. Just a few hours later, it was Rhode Island's Bob Schneck who reached the milestone, as his Rams swept rival Brown in the Art Carmichael Invitational. There are five more coaches that have a chance to reach the 500-win plateau this season, including three that are within 10 victories of it: California's Rich Feller (495 wins), Bowling Green's Denise Van De Walle (494) and Debbie Humphreys of Stephen F. Austin (491).

Statistics Worth Noting

The Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln, Neb., was the site of history on Sunday, as the longest home-court winning streak in NCAA Division I women's volleyball history came to an end in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a regular-season women's volleyball match (not held in conjunction with a special event). Eighth-ranked UCLA accomplished what no team had done in more than five years, knocking off No. 5 Nebraska on the Huskers' home court, by scores of 18-25, 25-17, 25-22, 24-26, 15-7 in the Ameritas Players Challenge. The Bruins were led by junior outside hitter Dicey McGraw, who posted a match-high 18 kills, while UCLA freshman setter Lauren Cook - a Lincoln native - had 48 assists and 15 digs and was named the tournament MVP. The Cornhuskers had won 90 consecutive home matches, dating back to a 3-1 defeat against Florida A&M on Sept. 10, 2004. A total of 13,870 fans watched the match, which surpassed the previous NCAA record for attendance of a regular-season match. That was set in the same venue on Sept. 12, 2008, when Nebraska took on LSU.